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Report: Gabrielle Giffords struggling to communicate; return to Congress uncertain

June 09, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau
(Jim Harrison/AFP )

Gabrielle Giffords is nowhere close to returning to Congress. And there remains real doubt about whether she ever will.

That appears to be the bottom line of an article Thursday in the Arizona Republic that provides the most complete assessment yet of the wounded congresswoman’s current condition. Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman in Tucson in January. Now, six months later, she still struggles mightily to communicate, although her staff believes her comprehension skills are strong. And it remains unclear just how much damage her brain has suffered.

Asked for a blunt description of Giffords’ condition, her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, replied:  "She's living. She's alive. But if she were to plateau today, and this was as far as she gets, it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before."

As to whether she resembles herself before the shooting, Carusone said, “There's no comparison. All that we can hope for is that she won't plateau today and that she'll keep going, and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here."

The news may be sobering, but it's not necessarily a surprise. The state of Giffords' health has been closely guarded information as early, hopeful accounts of her rapid physical and motor recovery yielded to more cautious -- and less frequent -- reports. She remains at a Houston rehabilitation facility while her staff manages her day-to-day congressional business.

Although her two trips to Florida to witness the launch of her husband’s space shuttle mission were hailed as significant milestones, she was kept from the public. No photo of her after the shooting has yet been released, but Carusone said that day is coming.

"This is a one-step-at-a-time process," she told the Republic. "It has been a difficult and busy time with everything. Every week, there is something new. I think that we're getting close to the time when Gabby will feel comfortable releasing a photo. Then, we go from there."

Carusone stressed that Giffords remains in the middle of a long path toward recovery, and that doctors aren’t close to being ready to assess the kind of life she will ultimately live.  As far as her political career goes, the only deadline her staff is keeping in mind is May 2012, when she would have to file for reelection if that is her plan.

"That's a firm timetable. Short of that, we'd love to know today what her life will be, what her quality of life will be, which will determine whether she'll be able to run for office and all sorts of other things involving her life,” Carusone said. “But we just don't know yet. . . .”

In the initial months after the shooting, as optimistic reports of Giffords’ recovery continued to surface, speculation arose that the moderate Democrat might make a run for the open U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated by the retiring Republican Jon Kyl. But the latest news would seem to place the likelihood of such a bid outside the realm of possibility -- at least for now.

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